(To see Parts 12345 and 6 in this series, click on the links.)

In the previous post, I noted that it was difficult, as a researcher, to prevent my personal knowledge of my great grandfather’s Methodist faith from influencing my analysis of his letters to his son during the First World War. I argued that a familiarity with the language and imagery of Methodism could provide some insight into the rhetorical ‘work’ being done by these letters, and specifically their attempt to reconcile Christian belief with military experience. Referring to the work of historians of masculinity such as John Tosh, I also suggested that some awareness of contemporary masculinities, and their interaction with different forms of Christian faith, might prevent us making naïve assumptions about the masculine and fathering identities available to men of my great grandfather’s generation.

Bringing this kind of extrinsic knowledge to bear on data analysis is not incompatible with the methods of discursive psychology, at least not with the form that I find most congenial. Discursive psychology can be viewed as a spectrum, with microscopic conversation analysis at one end of the scale, and critical discursive psychology’s concern with political macro-discourses at the other. I’m most at home somewhere in the middle, and my thinking has been most influenced by the work of Potter and Wetherell, Edley, Harré, and others. In the last post, I referred to Nigel Edley’s notion of ‘interpretive repertoires’, which Edley himself has described as a social-psychological re-working of Foucault’s concept of social discourses. For this kind of discourse analytic approach, it is perfectly appropriate to make use of knowledge of the broader discourses or repertoires on which an individual speaker draws.

However, in this post I want to consider the potential role of other kinds of knowledge about the speaker, which would almost certainly be inadmissible within the canons of discursive psychology, but which (again) I find it difficult as a researcher with personal knowledge of the text’s author to set to one side. In recent years, I’ve been influenced more and more by the work of psychologists and others who have gone ‘beyond the discursive’ and explored the interplay between discourse and unconscious, intra-psychic factors. Wendy Hollway, an esteemed Open University colleague, has been a particular influence on my thinking, with her interest in exploring the reasons why individuals invest in particular discourses. Wendy’s work has taken her increasingly into the realms of Kleinian psychoanalysis, and while not wishing to follow her all the way along this route, I’ve moved away from a purely discourse analytic perspective to a more nuanced ‘psychosocial’ position. Of course, how you understand the ‘psycho’ and the ‘social’, and the interaction between the two, are vexed questions that continue to preoccupy and divide academics.

All of which is a long way round to saying: there are things that I know about my great grandfather’s life, his childhood and his personal relationships, that I believe shed light on key aspects of his letters to his son during the First World War. I think they also raise interesting questions about the nature of fathering and of men’s care for their children,  which I’ll explore further in the next post.